Increasing evidence for the organization of cell-surface proteins and lipids into different detergent-insoluble rafts led us to investigate epidermal growth factor (EGF) receptor activation in the plasma membranes of A431 carcinoma cells, using a combination of cell fractionation and immunoprecipitation techniques. Density-gradient centrifugation of sodium carbonate cell extracts revealed that the vast majority of both stimulated and unstimulated EGF receptors were concentrated in a caveolin-rich light membrane (CLM) fraction, with the biochemical characteristics of detergent-insoluble glycolipid-rich domains (DIGs). However, ultrastructural analysis of the CLM fraction revealed that it contained a heterogeneous collection of vesicles, some with sizes greater than that expected for individual caveolae. Experiments with detergent-solubilized cells and isolated CLMs indicated that, in contrast with caveolin, EGF receptors were unlikely to be localized to DIG domains. Furthermore, immunoisolation of caveolin from CLMs revealed that EGF receptor activation occurs in a compartment distinct from caveolae. Similarly, using an anti-(EGF receptor) antibody, the bulk of the cellular caveolin was not co-immunoprecipitated from CLMs, thereby confirming that these two proteins reside in separate membrane domains. The deduction that caveolar signalling and EGF receptor activation occur in separable rafts argues for a multiplicity of signal transduction compartments within the plasma membrane. In addition, by demonstrating that EGF receptor activation is compartmentalized within low-density, non-caveolar regions of the plasma membrane, it is also shown that the co-localization of proteins in a CLM fraction is insufficient to prove caveolar localization.

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